Will Athens take advantage of the new political environment in Washington?

Business File, September-October 2017, No. 112
US-Greek Relations

Although the new administration has made it abundantly clear that it does not want to get involved in the discussions about the Greek debt, there is room for a new chapter in bilateral relations, if there is an accurate reading of the American strategic priorities in South Europe and Eastern Mediterranean.

In addressing the relations between Athens and Washington, one can not but take into account a set of factors that weigh in heavily into the equation. A fair assessment can not ignore the new European political land- scape which is dominated by Berlin. The heavy shadow of the German political influence and financial leverage over the Greek establishment across the board has created a fear syndrome in successive Greek administrations. As a result, Athens has been unable to explore its full potential with its Anglo-American allies. It has totally ignored that Greece has always been a naval power.
Of particular interest is the case of the current Greek government which at times seems to be at a loss and makes the wrong moves in dealing with Washington or hesitates to respond with the proper vigour to American gestures of collabora- tion beyond the established norm.
One then wonders whether the people in Athens are capable of reading accurately the messages emanating from Washington and its emissaries in Athens and, furthermore, whether established back channels are really up to the task! Of course, the main question mark has always been and still remains: Is Athens prepared to deliver on promises? And, if so, how assertive can it be in what it asks for and gets in return!
A “vehicle for Germany”?
Trump has spoken of the EU as a “vehicle for Germany” and accused Germany of manipulating the euro! Furthermore, he and some of his top advisers have predict- ed the break up of the Eurozone – views that were being whispered for a long time in the Washington power corridors well before Mr Trump came to power.
The perception on this part of the Atlantic has been that the EU needs to move away from the idea that “one size ts all” to something more exible. There also needs to be a re-balancing of power away from Brussels toward the national capitals (Council on For- eign Relations). An idea of the sorts would de nitely serve American inter- ests well, albeit unavoidable.
One may wonder: Have the Greek governing elites been able to read the “picture” that comes out of Washing- ton? Have they realised how important it is to be able to read the “mood” that prevails there? Doubtful, very doubtful! Everybody and their cousin were con- verging into Washington since January hovering around Reince Preibus, the re- cently resigned, former Chief of Sta of President Trump. Did they really think that he would be able to solve all Greek problems? Or, did they rush there sim- ply to have a photo opportunity with him? Most probably the latter!
What now…? A hostile bureaucracy, greatly ignored, has been watching from a distance and will at some point come to strike back for not having re- ceived the appropriate attention. It has happened a few too many times!
“We [the US] have nothing to do with Greece,” Mr Trump has declared.He was referring to Greece’s economic problems. “We should let Germany deal with this matter that knows it better anyway…”
The belief is that the Germans are helping Mr Tsipras to remain in power because they know that he is the only one that can deliver. No one else could have passed the tsounami of so many negative measures without any noses bleeding.
What he was really implying is that Greece is under German in uence and domination! So, whatever it is, it’s something between the two of them, according to Mr Trump. Mrs Merkel’s of- cial visit to Washington back in 2011 is a testament to that.
When President Obama raised the Greek issue in a joint press conference with Mrs Merkel, she told him in so many words to take care of his own house and “we [the Europeans] will take take care of our own” – suggesting in essence that the Greek issue is a European problem. As it has turned out, the meaning of that statement has a deeper connotation. Germany will nev- er loosen up its strong grip on Greece.
The Greek debt
The Americans have made several gestures to “approach” Greece and statements of encouragement about Greece’s economic progress and achie- vements are tuned to that same wave-length and have a double reading – an invitation for her to “come in”.
That Greece is a problematic country, that it was a mistake to be and remain in the Eurozone, and that the Greek debt is not sustainable and it’s not going to be repaid are common knowledge among high level American o cials. The new administration has made it abundantly clear that it does not want to get involved in the discussions about the Greek debt.
The belief is that the Germans are helping Mr Tsipras to remain in power because they know that he is the only one that can deliver. No one else could have passed the tsounami of so many negative measures without any noses bleeding.
It is also understood that, on its part, the Greek government realises that if it were to start a direct give and take with the Americans, that would be kind of risky; because the Germans may pull the plug from the Intensive Care Unit where the Greek economy lies.
The situation has become even more critical at this juncture after Mrs Merkel’s cold shower reception in Washington in March and the clear indications in June that the Germans are taking over the European leadership and are preparing for a full confrontation with the US.
Still –and this is mind boggling– when Greek officials come to Washington, they are asking for the wrong things, in the wrong way. They ask, for instance, for help in the efforts for a debt relief when they know very well Washington’s stance on that.
One may wonder: Do Greek officials understand what’s going on in Washington? Do they read the events correctly? Or, are they afraid to approach realistically the new environment? Still, do they really care, anyway? No one can be so certain about any of these!
Open a new chapter with…
The fact of the matter is that Greece has a chance to open a new chapter in its relations with the new American administration. But that presupposes that Greece will need to open a direct line of communication and to assume a new role, a more direct role to align more with American interests, not a role under the auspices and the umbrella of the German-dominated European Union.
There is a valid fear that the Greek thinking process does not go that far and all they care about in Athens are short-lived political bene ts they can derive from o cial visits in Washington in order to play them out in their do- mestic audience.
Unfortunately, this has been and continues to be the drama and the curse of all Greek political elites in recent history. They have cared mostly for photo opportunities and not for substance.
Greece tops the list of European countries that give high priority to the photo opportunity aspect of their visiting officials. The point here is that when Greeks are been pressed to get into the substance of issues they are been evasive and non-committal.
One can guess how their hosts may feel!
…an accurate reading
In recent years and even more so now, there seems to be a fear syndrome. The fear of Germany. And it is unfortunate because this is not the time to fear. This is the time for the country to position or re-position itself – based on its strategic
The new administration has made it abundantly clear that it does not want to get involved in the discussions about the Greek debt.
interests and its geopolitical imperatives in a dramatically changing European and international environment. All it takes is an accurate reading of the themes that define American strategic priorities in South Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean.
So, to go to Washington and ask for help, in the current political environment of Republican dominance, to interfere with the IMF about your debt is totally out of sync with prevailing perceptions of multinational organisations, like the IMF, the World Bank and the United Nations – especially when every single statement that comes out is blasting those organisations.
What’s even worse is the fact that recently, when Greek o cials visited Washington, they misrepresented the “mood” there – so, for some strange reason, they expressed “satisfaction” about supposed promises of help with the debt coming from American officials. Either they didn’t understand or, and that’s bad, ignored what they were told and chose instead to “beautify” what they heard for political considerations back home.
The world and Europe in particular are at a critical juncture. A lot of people feel that we are witnesses to a pre WW2 geopolitical restructuring. Τhe tectonic plates in Europe’s architecture are shifting.
Thanks to Mr Trump, the rules of the international game are changing. He does not beat around the bush and talks publicly on the substance of significant issues; like none of his predecessors. Furthemore, he is the rst one to talk tough to Turkey – unlike Obama that contributed to Turkey’s arrogance since his visit there in April of 2009 and, of course, unlike Hillary Clinton who was a hostage to political money from questionable Turkish special interests.
The question remains: Are there any politicians in Athens with guts and real politic credentials to take advantage of the new political environment in Washington? Hard to nd any who have not given in to German dominance!